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Nose Under the Community Tent

By Paul Losch

About this blog: I was a "corporate brat" growing up and lived in different parts of the country, ending in Houston, Texas for high school. After attending college at UC Davis, and getting an MBA at Harvard, I embarked on a marketing career, mai...  (More)

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How to Sort Out Tragic Events In PA

Uploaded: Oct 20, 2009
There has been another Gunn High School student lost by suicide at the Meadow train tracks. The fourth suicide this year, and it would be five had one of them not been averted.

Just a block away from where I live, a young women appears to have died last week due to relationship problems with her boyfriend, or perhaps someone who wanted to be her boyfriend. It was quite a scene last Thursday evening in my neighborhood. I never have seen so many fire engines and police cars.

Many people are weighing in on reports and blogs about these events. And that is a good thing.

Speaking for myself, I feel very confused and conflicted.

I don't know where the incident on Addison and the arrest of the boyfriend will lead. I can report there was and still is an acrid smell on that block, which means a great deal symbolically as well as empiracally.

I don't know what is going on at the Meadow intersection with Caltrain. I can observe that there have been too many deaths in this year on those tracks, all Gunn or to be Gunn students.

Despite my years (I am 55) age-wise, and living in Palo Alto-wise (20+ years,) I cannot sort out recent tragic events in this town that all have led to loss of life.

Maybe it cannot be explained. Maybe ideas for intervention for depressed high schoolers and unhappy lovers provide useful information, but it is not acted on.

I think most of us don't see it or know what to do with it when we do.

A helpless feeling.

After the fact.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:06 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

A city that does not hesitate to close off neighborhood through traffic because someone whines about it but refuses to consider closing off a crossing because it is a suicide magnet is a city in trouble. We shrug our shoulders when kids are cut down but go into orbit when trees are cut. Collectively we are pathetic.

Posted by Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern, a resident of ,
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:20 am

On behalf of our faith communities, I would like to invite you and your readers to this Sunday's vigil.

Web Link

In hope and grief,

Amy Zucker Morgenstern
Parish Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:28 am


Thank you for provision of something tangible for our youth.

If other churches or organizations are doing something tangible, perhaps they could also list those here.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Anon., a resident of ,
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Finally, someone who can admit we do not know what causes this ... specifically.

Bullying, stress, family problems, social problems, boyfriend/girlfriend problems.

Because of Facebook and some other Internet sites I have recently been in contact with friends I knew in Palo Alto as far back as 1970 ... and finding out things I never knew they were dealing with. We cannot assume that we can just assume things about people, particularly in moments like this.

One thing is for sure ... that someone has to be in a lot of pain and misery to consider taking their own life, and it is probably something that they have no one talk about it with.

So, we are all in some way failing each other, but there is no easy answer in how or what to do about it.

Posted by WilliamR, a resident of ,
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Walter and others,

Closing the East Meadow crossing is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. This is a public thoroughfare that everyone has a right to use. It is not some neighborhood cul-de-sac. Putting up lights and better gates and patrols are fine, but demands to close the crossing or have trains run through town at 10 miles per hour are simply ridiculous.

Posted by Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern, a resident of ,
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Dear Mr. Wallis,

There's no need to be rude. People need time to be together and weep, as well as ways to take concrete action. Many of us are working hard to provide both. For my part, I've spoken at one of Caltrain's public meetings and have helped get the ball rolling at the California Public Utilities Commission (which regulates rail safety) to advocate effective technologies.

They do exist. While a barricade may not be the best solution, there are other technological changes that could reduce fatalities. Those who say these are pointless because "people will just kill themselves anyway" may be heartened to learn that means restriction--making it more difficult to get access to highly deadly means of suicide, such as guns, railroad tracks, bridges--has been proven to save lives.

Of course, we also need to address the causes of suicide, which are frequently mental illness or drug/alcohol abuse. And another step faith leaders will be taking is to educate themselves in knowing the warning signs and better ways to respond to them. I'll be preaching this Sunday on what our kids need and what we could each be doing to make this a healthier community.

If you have other suggestions--as opposed to scorn--I'd like to hear them.



Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of ,
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:08 pm


"Collectively we are pathetic"

No. Collectively Palo Altans are Liberal

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 4:59 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern, I have been suggesting engineering solutions to the railroad deaths for at least ten years, to the scorn of the officialdom that has no other solution to offer. A recent suggestion by a Steve Rainey in this column parallels my efforts. There were effective people catchers on interurban streetcars 100 years ago, examples of which can be seen at the Frisco trolley museum. An effective people catcher must catch and hold the person above the rails until the train can stop, and absorb the energy of accelerating the person to train speed withing the depth of the catching device at a rate of acceleration survivable.
"If you have other suggestions--as opposed to scorn--I'd like to hear them." Part of the problem is folks like you and the editor who excised my comment - dead kids are preferable to action.

Posted by Disbelief, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 8:28 am

Amy Zucker, what do you mean when you so flippantly say: "Of course, we also need to address the causes of suicide, which are frequently mental illness or drug/alcohol abuse."

If you really want to extend support, please do not compartmentalize the factors leading to suicide, or suicidal ideation, to these simplistic generalities. Stress, anxiety, hormones, personal, family, and cultural expectations can manifest as, or trigger, "mental illness" or the need to turn to drugs as an escape. Cause and causation is not so easily defined. Would you say that depression is "mental illness?" or anorexia, or bullimia, or any number of anxiety disorders? People are depressed because they're simply mentally ill?

The cause of suicide is not "mental illness" ... many times suicide comes from feelings of profound isolation, or entrapment, as the inability to change the one's circumstances. It does not simply spring from an organic state of "mental illness."

Posted by A Palo Alto mother, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 9:53 am

It is so crude to blame these teenages "mental" while you don't know them at all. I personally know they are just normal healthy (but talented, if you call that ?mental?) kids.

When babies cry (it always has reasons, even it is for asking being held), we rush to them. When our teenager can't find help, you blame them "mental"!

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:56 am

I agree with the last poster. We do not have an epidemic of mental health. However, we do need to watch our children's emotional health. Emotional problems are very common during the teen years, but mental problems are much more unlikely.

Scaring us all by telling us we have crazy teens is not the way to deal with this situation.

Posted by Mom by Gunn, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 11:50 am

My grandfather killed himself here on Addison Ave back in the 1950's. He was an upstanding person here in Palo Alto, honest, very giving. He had health issues, which back then he thought would have led to his demise and decided to take his own life rather than have to have the family see him so ill and care for him. Tragic action for all of us. "Thou shall not kill"..hoping there was an exception in his case. His pain was over the top, I cannot say that he was mentally ill. I also can not say that people that take their own lives are mentally ill....we ALL have a breaking point, we ALL are human.
We all should try to be aware, catching the red flags...looking out for each other....try being a little more compassionate towards each other in cost you nothing to lend a ear or give a could make a huge difference in someones life........

Posted by Sean, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:20 pm

I drove across the Meadow RR crosiing today. People are putting flowers there, although I only saw a couple of flower bundles. This should immediately be stopped. We can no longer afford to make a shrine, as we have done in the past.

Posted by Citizen, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 7:13 pm

It is high time this newspaper took the lessons advocated by the World Health Organization, the CDC, and countless other organizations into consideration. Even the national press, as seen on the CBS Evening News tonight, takes the local press to task. It is this media outlet that has been the worst offender.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 9:42 pm

It is high time that Citizen actually cited the CBS story correctly and was aware that the CDC recommendations are based on old research that don't reflect the current information age.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 7:34 am

The WHO evidence based guidelines on how the media should report on suicides are very clear.

Their guidelines are designed to prevent suicide contagion.

The Palo Alto press has broken every one of the WHO guidelines and continue to do so.

The consequences of such violations are predictable and tragic, as we have seen in the last 6 months.
Enough is enough.

Posted by Brian, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 1:21 pm

The WHO guidelines assume a completely different world:
- the media is the main and in general, only outlet for information
- no other news sources or other sources of information
- no online community or forum where kids connect, share information, post information, read information
- students/teenagers look to the newspaper as the end all be all announcement of what is news, what's popular, who is famous

If you really do want to follow the guidelines, the guidelines don't make some blanket statement that coverage should be limited or that we shouldn't talk about how to stop the suicides.
Those guidelines specifically emphasize that pictures of the dead bodies, glorifying the way that they died, etc, should not be shown. They don't focus on media coverage as a whole, they are specific guidelines. If you really want to follow the WHO guidelines, it does not mean at all that you don't report on what happened, or stop reporting daily events. It means you don't harp on where the body was positioned, the look on the person's face when the body was found, etc. The guidelines actually encourage the media to share details about psychosocial causes of the person's frame of mind, so that people know the truth. It actually also specifically says that not sharing details can end up glorifying the death as some mysterious, romantic death. Talking about specifics is actually the BEST way to stop future suicides and avoid copycat followers.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 5:24 pm

In the recent teen suicide epidemic in an English town the social networks sites clamped down and stopped discussion of the teen suicides.

It will not be long before smart lawyers start looking at liability cases directed a media that flagrantly violate the evidence based guidelines of the CDC and the WHO to prevent suicide contagion.

The sooner the lawyers file to stop this irresponsible behavior by the press and media the better.

Posted by JordanParent, a resident of ,
on Oct 27, 2009 at 12:51 am

JordanParent is a registered user.

A lot of our kids are also very stressed out due to the pressures of academic and other achievements, and college placements. We really do need to work very hard with our kids to help them de-stress. I attended a fantastic conference organized by Challenge Success at Stanford Memorial Auditorium a month or so ago. The message is well expressed in this article in the SmartBean magazine titled "Redefining Success to Raise Healthier Happier Kids" - Web Link

We all need to start in our own homes, and then work in schools and in the community to help our teens be healthy and happy. The suggestions in the article provoke thought, and are helpful, in my opinion.

(Apologies for cross-posting this message in various discussions on this topic, but I feel that it would serve us all to pay heed to some of these tips and ideas...)

Posted by Sean, a resident of ,
on Oct 27, 2009 at 3:35 pm

One of the real joys I had in high school was woodshop and metal shop. I am talking about building real things with real shop tools. I also took higher level math courses. I mixed with other students that were not in the math classes. I still have friends from those classes.

Most Palo Alto parents do not want their kids to 'waste' their time with such things. It is a big mistake. It is also a big mistake to not insist that your kids mow your own lawn. In fact, do it yourself, especially Dads, but also Moms, so as to set the example. Hiring servants is a lousy way to raise a family.

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